Originally created 11/28/98

Arrest made in slayings



Eight months pregnant and running for her life, Prisca Rosales Vazquez grabbed her two daughters -- 15-year-old Rosy and 13-year-old Graciela -- and shielded them from the bullets.

Minutes later on Thanksgiving night, the 41-year-old Mexican immigrant, her husband, their unborn child and a neighbor were dead. On Friday, police in Statesville, N.C., arrested 48-year-old Narciso Penida Sr. in connection with one of the worst multiple killings in Columbia County history. He is awaiting extradition to Georgia.

"He was going to shoot two other girls, but Rosales pushed her daughters to the ground, and he instead shot her," said 14-year-old Gloria Rosales, the niece of Mrs. Vazquez and her 42-year-old husband Leonel.

By midday Friday, local police were distributing wanted posters of Mr. Penida, of the 100 block of East Robinson Avenue in Grovetown.

They later received a tip that Mr. Penida was in North Carolina. Police there arrested him about 10:15 p.m. Authorities aren't sure how he made it all the way to North Carolina.

Authorities plan to charge Mr. Penida with three counts of homicide and one count of feticide. All charges can carry a sentence of life in prison.

"This has been an ongoing feud for several months between the victims and the suspect," said Capt. Steve Morris of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

Police on Friday also questioned Mr. Penida's son, Narciso Jr., 18, who was at the scene of the shooting and was hit in the leg by a bullet. Charges may be pending against him too, Capt. Morris said.

"He is certainly a person of interest," he said. "We are still putting together the very difficult pieces of this puzzle. We don't want to rush judgment. We want to be very meticulous."

Officials spent Friday piecing together just what happened in the Mobile City Rentals trailer park on Gordon Highway between Grovetown and Harlem.

According to accounts from witnesses and police, Mr. Penida went to Lot 12 about 10 p.m. looking for Mario Molina, 42, and the Vazquez family.

"Narciso said that he was there to invite them over to his house, but they said they didn't want to," said Gloria. "And then he started arguing with them."

At some point during the confrontation just outside the Vazquez trailer, police believe Mr. Penida grabbed a gun and began firing. Mr. Molina was hit first.

From her home less than 100 yards away, Gloria heard the shooting and the screaming. She ran toward Lot 12, but was held back by neighbors -- at least seven were nearby as the shooting unfolded.

"Everyone heard the shots, and then everybody dropped to the ground," she said Friday, standing near the place where bullets tore through the trailer and the Vazquez family van. "I was a couple of trailers behind where it happened. But I heard the shots myself, and I was told to stay away."

All the dead were legal immigrants from Mexico, and Mr. Molina and Mr. Vazquez were coworkers at McCorkle's Nursery in McDuffie County, Capt. Morris said.

Minutes after the shooting started deputies arrived -- followed by ambulances, investigators and representatives from the Columbia County Coroner's Office.

"I was up most of the night with it," said Columbia County Coroner Tommy King.

Mr. King called the case one of the worst slayings ever in Columbia County's history.

Probably the closest occurred more than a decade ago, when James Edward Tankersley shot James F. "Timmy" Harrell, William F. "Billy" Reese and Rick T. Lavarnway during an argument in Leah, Ga.

"I don't remember any right off the top of my head. I may miss some, but I don't think I have," Mr. King said. "I hope I don't have another one."

Jason B. Smith and Preston Sparks are reporters for The Augusta Chronicle's Columbia County Bureau. They can be reached at 868-1222 or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.